For some, the Super Bowl halftime show is as big a draw as the game itself, and it may be more controversial.
Los Angeles Times reporting shows that halftime performers at last year’s game worked long, grueling hours in rehearsal, and many of them did it for free. What they didn’t know was that some of their fellow dancers were being paid handsomely. In an interview for “LA Times Today,” arts and culture writer Jessica Gelt talked to host Lisa McRee about this growing controversy.
The Super Bowl is in Los Angeles this year, and there is a lot of pride about that in Inglewood and around LA. The halftime show has an impressive lineup including Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar.
"They’re going to be dancing and singing on stage, and there’s going to be a group of paid dancers on stage with them," Gelt said. "And then in the field, as part of this thing called the field cast, there will be all these people in front of the stage who will be dancing and adding value to the telecast. It turns out that those people aren’t being paid."
One professional dancer posted about the unpaid work on her Instagram, bringing attention to the issue.
“Taja Riley, who has danced with Janet Jackson and has already performed in halftime show as a paid dancer, posted about it after it came to her attention that a big dance agency in Los Angeles called Bloc LA issued a call to its clients, giving them this opportunity to volunteer. She felt that no professional dancer should be asked to volunteer," Gelt said. "And it was 72 hours over a period of nine days. This wasn’t just show up one day and dance in front of the field."
Gelt reached out to the Fatima Robinson, the show's choreographer, as well as the executive producers. Robinson wanted to clarify that there was no call for professional dancers to perform for free.
"Rather, they were recruiting through the local theater companies, drill team and musical groups," Gelt said. "They weren’t trying to recruit professional dancers. All you needed to do was to be able to chew gum at the same time. And a lot of people cried foul on that and said that that is not true. Many professional dancers who answered the call were a part of this free field cast, and that should not be happening, whether they’re professionals or not. They showed up for days on end to do these long, grueling rehearsals.”
The situation became more complicated. The producers of the halftime show claim that the field cast does not learn choreography, but former Super Bowl dancers dispute that claim.
"I spoke with the dancer before the field cast of last year’s Super Bowl with The Weekend, and this dancer told me that they were indeed choreographed," Gelt said. "If you look on the field during that show, you’ll see a bunch of dancers in white face bandages masks with red jackets. Some of those dancers are paid. A great number of them or not, and they’re all on the field with The Weeknd doing the same thing. So it became clear to them at that time they were being choreographed, and they started to wonder why this was going on."
According to Gelt, the paid dancers were not aware that the others were dancing for free. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents the performers, then issued a statement saying that they had reached an agreement with the producers and no professional dancers would be used in this field cast for the Super Bowl. However, the fact remains that professional dancers have not been compensated, even this year.
"With that younger generation of dancers you’re seeing, that’s kind of outdated thinking," Gelt said. "That’s not how things should be done, and nobody should be asked to give up their time for exposure. People are saying, with something like the Super Bowl, where this extraordinary amount of money flowing through it and coming from it, that there should be something for these people who are being asked to give this much of their time."